NORTHE (Morwell) (12:49): Just in relation to the amendment as put by the Leader of the House, I guess speaking on behalf of myself and the Independents who are absent who would probably, I would suggest, have similar views to myself, it is an opportunity missed for opposition members and Independent members, particularly coming from regional Victoria, that we have the opportunity to have our say in those forums that are available to us, whether that be by way of a members statements or adjournment matters.
Notwithstanding the fact that all of us in this place should heed any health advice when it comes to the coronavirus, the facts are that we are here. Many members of Parliament from regional Victoria make a long and concerted effort to get to this place and the opportunities that are available to us to put our views and raise issues, which the community sends us here to do. It is important to ensure that we have those opportunities.
The Leader of the House did note to me the proposed amendment, which has evolved into the opportunity for members to submit their members statements and adjournment debate matters in writing, but again that does not have the same impact as standing here. One of the technologies that is available to us as members of Parliament in this day and age is the ability to have video links to our speeches that we make in Parliament, and they are a much better option in many cases when you are delivering a passionate speech to this place on behalf of your community. If we were only able to have that in writing, that is the loss of an opportunity for members of Parliament to put their views back out into their community and be able to demonstrate in a physical sense and an emotional sense the issues that we are sent here to address. From that perspective I think it is a lost opportunity.
But more importantly, as I mentioned, all of us need to heed the advice of the health experts. We are in this place because obviously the health warnings are not enough for us to not be here, notwithstanding that some members of Parliament are absent for various reasons. But we are here and, as I say, for many of us who have travelled hundreds of kilometres it makes no sense that we would not be here for the duration. And again, notwithstanding obviously that the sitting hours have reduced markedly from previous parliaments as well. It is easier of course for those members of Parliament who live in the city or outer suburbs to get back home, but it raises a conundrum for many regional members of Parliament who will be forced to stay here in Melbourne for meetings that have been coordinated either inside of the Parliament or without. To change the operations of the house in this substantial manner is not something that I or the other Independents would support in that regard for all the reasons that I have mentioned.
As I say, going back to the start, Hansard now have a great vehicle available to us in having video links to our speeches. It is not the same as providing an issue in writing. I have already had the opportunity this week to raise many issues around the coronavirus and the impacts that that is having on our community. I do not want to be putting those concerns in writing. I want to be able to stand here in Parliament and do it in that manner. I think what is being proposed by the Leader of the House is not something that I would support, and neither would our community. We are elected by our communities to come here, to express our views as best we can, to ask questions of the government and the relevant ministers and to get that feedback.
Even in the adjournment debate, if I can raise an example, two sitting weeks ago I raised an adjournment debate for the attention of the Minister for Police and Emergency Services about police shortages in my electorate and the levels of crime. During the course of the adjournment debate the minister actually happened to be in the chamber and she was able to provide some really helpful, insightful information that I could immediately take back to my community, and that was helpful. That was in a forum whereby we had a number of local residents who had come to me on the basis of concerns about those high levels of crime. I was able to send back to those community members—there were about 50 of them—via email a video link of not only my contribution but also the minister’s response to my adjournment debate. If we do not have that, we lose the opportunity as well in terms of what is being proposed by the Leader of the House.
A member: Hazelwood pondage.
Mr NORTHE: Hazelwood pondage, yes, that is another big issue. But again, with the here and now, with the coronavirus, I think it is important that members of Parliament from all sides—it does not matter if it is government or opposition—have an opportunity to raise their real and valid concerns and issues surrounding their community members about the coronavirus. As I said, I was able to do that in question time with the Premier yesterday and by way of a members statement this morning, and it should not be in written form. We should be standing here being able to articulate that with the passion and vigour that our constituents expect us to.
That will continue for me in the next couple of days. I have a question without notice tomorrow, and I know that will be in order, but I also have an adjournment debate tomorrow evening. Again, I assume at this stage it will be around coronavirus and hopefully again a minister will be in the chamber to respond to that and I will be able to have those video links and that video footage from Hansard that I can relay back to my community, because that is the way we operate in this day and age. In the absence of any health warnings or advice from the chief health officers about the operations in Parliament, it makes sense to me that if we are here through the duration of operational hours as standing orders require, then we should be here. Again, I am reinforcing the fact that regional members of Parliament in many cases have had massive upheaval to their weeks to come to this place. They have put arrangements in place. We are here; let us be here for the duration unless there is other health advice or warnings that state otherwise.
In closing, I understand the intent from the Leader of the House, and I respect the fact that she has provided myself and others with a briefing on the intent. In this case, it is not something that I agree with—from my perspective, wearing my local member of Parliament hat. And I am sure the member for Mildura, having travelled all those miles and catching a plane to come to Parliament—I would suggest, without putting words in her mouth—would agree with my position, as would the member for Shepparton for those valid reasons. It is an opportunity, as the member for Shepparton says on a regular basis. At every opportunity that is available to us in opposition to contribute to forums and to contribute to debates and to raise issues and concerns on behalf of our community it is our responsibility to do so. We should not lose those opportunities in the current forums that are available to us for all the reasons that I have mentioned. Again, it is not the same in Hansard if you lose those opportunities via video links and video footage to go back to your community with the issues that you have raised during the course of a sitting week.
There is no need, in my view, to reduce debate in any of the forums, as has been suggested by the Leader of the House. There have been some good points raised by the member from the Greens. I very, very rarely agree with anything that a member from the Greens would say, but in this case there is some common sense, which is not too common coming from anybody from the Greens. Nonetheless I think the points that have been raised by many of the opposition members are very valid, and I would reiterate from my perspective that the amendments as proposed would not be supported by myself nor indeed by other Independent members of the house.